Written by Sherelee Rathnarajah

They say education is the key to success. However, only half of this key is readily available to children. So, where is the other half? It is within us. This article explores what these missing elements are and how to tap them out of our children for the greater good of the world.

Let me begin with a phrase that is being overused without much regard to its crucial meaning. EDUCATION SHOULD NOT BE LIMITED TO BOOKS. I will never get tired of repeating this statement, since I have long understood its core meaning. Compare one doctor who operates people for organ trafficking to another who operates tirelessly to save a dying girl. They are both skilled, of course, yet there is a fundamental difference; one of these doctors has received only half the education. I am sure it is obvious which doctor it is. Filling your mind with useful information, understanding it and repeating all of it on paper or replicating it practically or taking that information to more advanced heights is only part of the equation. The other part remains in the fact that a child is strengthened with essential values. These values provide a strong foundation which is conducive in nurturing an ethical child who is ready to internalize and use knowledge for a good cause. So what are these values? Let’s find out.


You cannot give others what you do not have yourself. Imagine it is one of those days that there is a water-cut in your area. Suddenly a thirsty man comes to you and asks for water. Can you offer him water? No. Why? Because you do not have it in the first place. It is the same logic that applies here. If you want your children to respect you and everyone else, first they need to learn to respect themselves. The first step is to change the manner in which a child speaks to herself. Remember that mind voice that calls us ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ or something even worse when we make an error? Children have it too. Teach children to train their mind voices to become kinder, more positive and more motivating. Teach them to tell themselves, ‘Hey, I did something wrong, let’s not repeat it the next time.’ The next step is to create a sense of accountability. Imagine a child promises to wake up at 6.00am in the morning. Then, teach her that she will put herself down if she does not stick to her plan. Teach her that putting herself down will make her lose the respect she has towards herself. Self –respect will teach a child to look at herself from an imaginary mirror. She will learn to stand in front of that mirror and talk to her reflection kindly and encouragingly to be accountable to herself.

Respect towards others

I think our children are taught the wrong concept of respect. If you ask a child what respect is, she would not be able to formulate an answer at most times. However, if you do ask a child as to who she should respect she will answer with something along the lines of parents, teachers, the clergy, one’s country or one’s flag. Do you notice how all these answers show that respect is directly proportional to authoritative power? The more powerful the person, the more respect that person deserves. This notion is the reason why most manual workers are either physically or verbally abused by their customers and employers. People are not taught to give respect down the hierarchy. Our children are taught to respect out of fear; not out of will. The right concept of respect is easier to teach when children are made to understand that everyone else is just as equal as they are. Children need to understand that it is not right to put another person down just as much as it is wrong to put themselves down. Children need to learn to vocalize their mind voices to spread positivity, kindness and motivation to everyone, regardless of their status. Remember that mirror? Now the child also learns to see another person in that reflection to whom she is kind and holds accountability to.


If a child learns to respect another person in the correct manner, she will automatically learn to empathize. The concept of ‘being in another person’s shoes’ cannot be grasped easily without seeing another person as one’s equivalent. This idea can be made digestible to children by allowing them to look after siblings or by simply letting them have a pet. This allows parents to use the phrase, ‘How would you feel if your brother did the same to you?’ This question in itself is sufficient to create an empathetic thought pattern in a child. She will always stop to think, ‘What if it was me?’ If you ask an only child for help, she will find it harder to offer that help when compared to a child who has grown up with siblings. We cannot blame her, since she clearly does not have the mechanisms to easily cater to another person’s feelings. This is why schools have resorted to conducting group-activities as a part of learning. These activities bring out the basic tools of empathy: diplomacy, the need to listen, control of one’s emotions and giving equal priority to everyone’s ideas inclusive of yours. Empathy is that mirror through which the child reflects upon another.


Speak to your child about your likes and dislikes. Explain to her which of her actions make you happy and which do not. Do not forget to make this a two-way conversation. Ask her what makes her happy or sad. Let her be comfortable about speaking up her mind. Once a child learns that her opinions and feelings matter just as yours, she is not afraid to vocalize them. She starts to subconsciously normalize this habit with outsiders as well. She understands that she has all the right to give or reserve her consent as she wishes. She will learn to distance from anyone who intimidates her by saying a simple ‘no’. Make sure she knows she has your full support in this. A child who grows in this manner will not only learn to stand for her consent, but also for another’s consent. She will go out into the world having and acting upon a strong sense of consent rather than becoming an easy prey to unjust and abusive people.


Did you notice that respect, empathy and consent can be given? How about trust? Can trust be given? Can trust even be taken? I suppose neither is possible. Trust can only be built and building takes time. Once built, trust also must be protected. Building trust happens in a sequence of events. First you meet a person; you decide if they are likeable. If you like the person you start to maintain continuous communication with him/her. At first you talk about surface matters such as professions and likes and dislikes; then you discuss ideologies on politics and maybe religion; later on you may exchange more private information in the scope of background, family and friends; finally it would the extremely personal matters such as your struggles or important experiences – things that you would wish to tell no one else. You went through each of those steps after sufficiently assessing the person’s actions and reactions to what you had to say. With each assessment your trust is built. Then comes the challenge of protecting what you have built. You expect the other person to not use your disclosures as weapons against you. Rather, you expect the other person to accept you as you are and be someone who you could rely on now that he/she saw you at your most vulnerable. Allow your children to experiment these steps with you and trustworthy family members until they reach a significant age. Once they have gone through the loop, they would have a ready-made set of instructions on how to trust a person.

Being sensible

Make your child aware of the cause and effect cycle. Teach her to be patient enough to think before she takes her next step. You see, the world has become a haze of rapidity with all the easy access technology has provided us with. Our minds, unfortunately, have adopted this speed to our thought processes as well. As a result, we do not want to go through the long and painstaking affair of patiently taking the time to think of the consequences if a certain decision is made. Instead, we give priority to the first thought that pops up in our mind and act upon it just to feed our brain’s hunger of speed. Now think of your child who was born right in the middle of this era of technological explosion. She has no idea about an alternative thinking pattern other than what she was born into. Imagine the number of wrong decisions she would make throughout her life if you leave this situation unchecked. It is scary, indeed. Show your child the beauty of questioning. Let her be amazed by the answers that are revealed. Make her work with puzzles that take her time and patience while making her contemplate on what could happen if she fits a certain piece at a certain place. Let her finish the puzzle and let her be amazed at what she had created out of patience and questions. She will surely make it a lesson for life.


You must be aware of how society idealizes genders. A man needs to be of a certain height and build and within a certain level of income to be accepted. A woman needs to be of an ideal body type with a certain disposition to be considered attractive. Now take into account a child’s mind which is being bombarded with these idealized images day in and day out, thanks to social media. We know in reality that this man and woman are misconceptions of what the general population really is. However, for your child these images are her reality, since that is what she has been seeing all her life. She wants to be that idealized image. If she turns out to be anything different from these images (which is the case 95% of the time) she would start to view herself as an abnormal person. The TV says she should look like this model. Her friends confirm that the TV is right. She looks at herself and notices she is not anything like that model and finally her self – esteem reaches a low deeper than the Mariana Trench. Eventually, she starts to seek attention and validation to soothe her burnt ego. It is a vicious cycle, which must be broken. Please, please, please tell your child that she is beautiful just the way she is. Show her real people with real bodies. Show her that everyone has flaws.  Teach her to groom herself to bring out the best features in her. More importantly, teach her how to be beautiful from the inside too.  Do not let her seek validation elsewhere, since today you forgot to tell her she is beautiful and unique. A child with self-esteem is a gem to have.

Let me repeat. EDUCATION SHOULD NOT BE LIMITED TO BOOKS. I am sure this does not sound a mere, bland utterance anymore. It is your child’s right to be nurtured into a blossoming individual. It is your right to be an important part of that process. Take the first step to this beautiful journey today. At first, you will be lost. Your patience would run dry. You would be angered by your underperformance. You literally will have to be a changed person. I assure you it will not be a leisurely walk in the park. Yet it would be for a worthy cause. Do not miss out on the other half of your child’s education. Best of luck!


Coleman, P. (2019, July 9). How to teach young kids about consent. Retrieved from 

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